In a quiet road in the heart of Fitzrovia, Le Menar offers a modern approach to North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. The menu, developed by head chef Vernon Samuels, is predominantly Moroccan with a few Lebanese contributions and is so full of temptations that another visit is definitely on the cards to try the dishes we didn’t have space for this time around! Vernon’s twists include the skilful introduction of European ingredients and techniques plus a modern presentation style.
Inside, the decor is traditional and customers can choose from regular tables towards the front or a colourful cushioned seating area at the back, which is altogether cosier.
Sugared mixed nuts and plump green olives in a spicy paste are served with the menus.
The drinks list is a little disappointing – only two Moroccan wines (one of which is rather expensive) and no Lebanese ones at all, though there are some affordable French choices. Likewise a lack of Moroccan or Lebanese beers and a dull soft drinks list are equally disappointing. The drinks offering could certainly do with some of the creativity and love that’s been given to the food menu.
Struggling to select from the Starters, our waiter suggests we take the Mezze for 2 (£18), a selection of eight mezze, selected by the chef. These are small portions, as promised, and served with warmed flatbread. Hummus is full of flavour, simple but tasty. Herb-packed Tabbouleh is fresh, though a touch lemony for me, Pete likes it more. Baby Okra Salad is always a hard sell to two okra haters but is well cooked and balanced with pomegranate seeds. Home made Falafel are crisp and light. Moussaka (not to be confused with the layered Greek version but the looser stewed style) is beautifully cooked and delicious. Moutabal (also known as baba ghanouj) is superbly smoky, silky and so good I could eat it every day. Mini Kibbeh (the Lebanese torpedos of minced lamb and bulgar wheat) are spot on though I’d like a little more of the smoked chilli jam they are served with. Neatly wrapped Waraq Enab – vine leaves with a tomato and rice stuffing – are improved by not being served fridge cold, as is often the case.
Between two, you don’t need an additional starter, but we were so keen to try it that we squeezed in this Za’atar Burrata (£8), a fantastic fusion dish of creamy burrata, several different heirloom tomatoes (all perfectly ripe and full of flavour), fresh basil leaves, crunchy shards of baked flatbread (in the fattoush style), a light smattering of za’atar on the burrata (could have taken a touch more) and a fantastic dressing (which Vernon coyly revealed to feature merlot vinegar and pomegranate molasses at its base), sprinkled with citrusy sumac. I absolutely adored this dish!
It was hard to choose from the main dishes too with tagines, slow cooked dishes and items from the grill competing for attention.
The Moroccan Style Sea Bass (£16) with rose harissa, za’atar, spinach, datterini tomatoes and kataifi wafers was our first choice. Isn’t the presentation beautiful, with the fish curving around the tomatoes and wearing that jaunty kataifi hat? The fish was perfectly cooked and it worked well with the selected vegetables and flavours. The cous cous served alongside was completely plain, I’d have liked a little flavoured sauce to mix into it, as there wasn’t much spare with the fish.
Our other main dish was a neck fillet Lamb Tagine (£16.50), slow cooked until falling apart to the touch, the spices robust but allowing the high quality lamb to shine. Served with crispy potatoes, its cooking liquid as a gravy and a garnish of fried baby aubergine, this was another true winner of a dish!
Were strawberries in season, these Mini Bingnes (£6) with rosewater, strawberries, lime, mascarpone cream and pistachio dust would probably have been wonderful. As it is, they were let down by seriously under ripe fruit, hard and sharp and lacking in strawberry flavour.
Deep Fried Vanilla Ice Cream (£8.50) served with butterscotch Medjool dates was pretty good. The salted caramel sauce over the dates was perfect, though I’d have liked a little more of it, and of course, the dates were gorgeous. The Madagascan vanilla ice cream was good quality, no complaints on that front. The sole (and not very serious) issue was that crispy shell around the ice cream was so thick that it evidently needed quite some time to cook through and brown which meant that the ice cream inside was rather more melted than ideal. It was all delicious though, that crusty shell included.
We really enjoyed the food at Le Menar – the flavours are true to Morocco and Lebanon, British and European ingredients are used to good effect, the fusion touches are well judged and presentation is beautiful. Prices are reasonable for the central London location.
A little more attention to the drinks menu, bringing it up to the standard of the food offering, would be a welcome improvement, but even without that, this North African restaurant is well worth a visit.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of Le Menar.